Most Difficult Novels

Novels that made you work the hardest. Let's assume that you actually finished the book and felt that it was worth the effort.
1

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3.86 avg rating — 156,963 ratings
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3.50 avg rating — 473,391 ratings
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5

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really liked it 4.00 avg rating — 36,398 ratings
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6

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4.12 avg rating — 258,894 ratings
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7

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4.22 avg rating — 612,053 ratings
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8

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4.08 avg rating — 738,314 ratings
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9

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4.29 avg rating — 73,165 ratings
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10

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3.42 avg rating — 410,099 ratings
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11

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4.05 avg rating — 653,649 ratings
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12

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3.45 avg rating — 80,937 ratings
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13

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4.32 avg rating — 237,869 ratings
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14

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3.89 avg rating — 652,879 ratings
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15

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4.17 avg rating — 674,284 ratings
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16

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4.34 avg rating — 9,785 ratings
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17

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4.12 avg rating — 293,771 ratings
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18

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3.69 avg rating — 349,816 ratings
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19

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4.06 avg rating — 126,468 ratings
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20

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3.62 avg rating — 126,526 ratings
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21

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3.97 avg rating — 38,507 ratings
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22

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3.79 avg rating — 218,540 ratings
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23

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3.89 avg rating — 59,087 ratings
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24

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3.98 avg rating — 713,696 ratings
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25

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3.84 avg rating — 799,871 ratings
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26

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3.99 avg rating — 591,229 ratings
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27

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3.78 avg rating — 129,466 ratings
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28

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3.78 avg rating — 640,400 ratings
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29

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3.41 avg rating — 694,562 ratings
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30

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3.87 avg rating — 204,668 ratings
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31

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4.17 avg rating — 106,352 ratings
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32

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3.86 avg rating — 318,180 ratings
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33

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3.98 avg rating — 690,046 ratings
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34

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3.86 avg rating — 1,317,414 ratings
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35

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4.18 avg rating — 128,271 ratings
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36

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3.71 avg rating — 53,795 ratings
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37

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3.96 avg rating — 228,300 ratings
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38

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4.10 avg rating — 333,610 ratings
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39

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4.23 avg rating — 5,534 ratings
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40

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4.25 avg rating — 735,910 ratings
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41

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3.69 avg rating — 68,805 ratings
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42

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4.22 avg rating — 34,003 ratings
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43

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4.12 avg rating — 1,597,914 ratings
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44

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4.14 avg rating — 41,192 ratings
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45

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3.92 avg rating — 83,114 ratings
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46

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3.92 avg rating — 403,464 ratings
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47

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3.98 avg rating — 103,212 ratings
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48

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4.18 avg rating — 73,574 ratings
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49

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3.93 avg rating — 212,660 ratings
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50

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3.97 avg rating — 133,919 ratings
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51

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4.13 avg rating — 132,914 ratings
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52

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3.80 avg rating — 235,307 ratings
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53

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4.01 avg rating — 579,614 ratings
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54

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3.96 avg rating — 18,853 ratings
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55

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3.80 avg rating — 1,142,179 ratings
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56

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3.78 avg rating — 8,668 ratings
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57

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4.01 avg rating — 94,597 ratings
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58

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3.87 avg rating — 154,550 ratings
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59

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4.01 avg rating — 211,722 ratings
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60

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3.85 avg rating — 44,313 ratings
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61

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4.13 avg rating — 35,221 ratings
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62

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4.15 avg rating — 27,298 ratings
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63

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3.72 avg rating — 135,249 ratings
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64

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4.19 avg rating — 4,540 ratings
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65

by
3.87 avg rating — 293,916 ratings
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66

by
4.07 avg rating — 9,195 ratings
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67

by
4.12 avg rating — 31,254 ratings
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68

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4.13 avg rating — 6,399 ratings
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69

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3.82 avg rating — 362,227 ratings
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70

by
4.14 avg rating — 9,357 ratings
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71

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really liked it 4.00 avg rating — 915,615 ratings
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72

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4.06 avg rating — 6,266 ratings
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73

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4.14 avg rating — 2,566,555 ratings
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74

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4.30 avg rating — 1,063,652 ratings
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75

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3.68 avg rating — 62,508 ratings
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76

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3.79 avg rating — 115,737 ratings
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77

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4.11 avg rating — 744,454 ratings
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78

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3.82 avg rating — 15,204 ratings
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79

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3.76 avg rating — 19,180 ratings
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80

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4.02 avg rating — 79,527 ratings
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81

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3.87 avg rating — 313,614 ratings
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82

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3.82 avg rating — 192,309 ratings
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83

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4.07 avg rating — 150,258 ratings
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84

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4.01 avg rating — 14,385 ratings
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85

by
3.65 avg rating — 168,997 ratings
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86

by
3.79 avg rating — 21,540 ratings
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87

by
4.36 avg rating — 2,324,082 ratings
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88

by
4.28 avg rating — 2,674 ratings
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89

by
4.16 avg rating — 213,443 ratings
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90

by
4.05 avg rating — 46,817 ratings
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91

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3.88 avg rating — 55,620 ratings
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92

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3.80 avg rating — 47,401 ratings
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93

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3.94 avg rating — 2,682,566 ratings
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94

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3.67 avg rating — 29,092 ratings
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95

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3.65 avg rating — 11,305 ratings
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96

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3.62 avg rating — 26,952 ratings
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97

by
4.38 avg rating — 16 ratings
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98

by
4.17 avg rating — 420,595 ratings
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99

by
really liked it 4.00 avg rating — 2,062 ratings
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100

by
4.29 avg rating — 235,846 ratings
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528 books · 1,948 voters · list created September 19th, 2008 by BoBandy (votes) .
460 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Greyweather 2660 books
72 friends
Nostromo 353 books
7 friends
Muzzlehatch 1325 books
72 friends
Sky 1 book
0 friends
Joan 653 books
39 friends
new_user 1434 books
187 friends
Ashley 288 books
40 friends
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads 3198 books
857 friends

More voters…


Comments Showing 1-50 of 110 (110 new)


message 1: by Tom (new)

Tom Beowulf, currently number 2 on this list, isn't a novel at all. And many of these books, like Anna Karenina, are not difficult, they're just long, which isn't the same thing.


message 2: by David (last edited Aug 12, 2009 07:10PM) (new)

David Ditto on the point that difficult is not the same as long. Dickens and Rand, though verbose, are rather transparent.


message 3: by Janna (new)

Janna Oh, I just saw in the description that these difficult books are supposed to be worth the effort. Well, that would change things.. hehe.


message 4: by Mischelle (new)

Mischelle What about The Phantom of The Opera? I just couldn't read that one. Too difficult!


message 5: by Erica (new)

Erica What might be difficult to one, may not be to another. What might be interesting to one, may not be to the other.


message 6: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Unless you are severely handicapped, Neil Gaiman's novels are not difficult.


message 7: by Tom (new)

Tom I agree about Gaiman, and The Count of Monte Cristo is not so difficult that it needs to be listed four times.


message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan


message 9: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Ulysses and Sound and the Fury aren't at all difficult if you understand "stream of consciousness." This is all personal taste and reading ability....utter baloney!


message 10: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Stout How is it that Finnegan's Wake is so far below Ulysses? Seriously? Ulysses is WONDERFUL. (!!!!!)


message 11: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Coble Why are there like 8 versions of CoMC on this list? Maybe that's what's so difficult...people think it's 8 books instead of one.


message 12: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Stout Katherine wrote: "Why are there like 8 versions of CoMC on this list? Maybe that's what's so difficult...people think it's 8 books instead of one."

Haha, yeah it confused me as well. And we also read it in my 8th grade reading class...


message 13: by Tom (new)

Tom Finnegan's Wake is below Ulysses because not as many people have even tried to read it, I imagine.


message 14: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Stout Ah...that does make sense. When I say I've trid to read it, I mean I opened it to the first page, opened it to a random middle page and looked the last page and decided it was impossible.


message 15: by Antoine (new)

Antoine I added the Aeneid. I have to agree with most of the assertions that the books listed (the ones I have actually read anyway) are often merely LONG rather than hard. BUt the Aeneid has so many layers, and is so artificial that it is in a different category... of course technically it is NOT a novel, so I guess I won't add Paradise Lost. But I also have to support Ulysses as "hard." Stream of consciousness IS hard. So is a multiple leveled experimental retooling of an ancient epic poem. And Finnegan's Wake is harder, but I suspect fewer people even try...


message 16: by Antoine (new)

Antoine OK, as a Librarian, I am deleting books that really hard, but are clearly NOT novels (including my own insertion of the Aeneid). Beowulf, Kant: buh-bye.


message 17: by Mignon (new)

Mignon King If hard equals BORING, the "Unbearable" heaviness of both book and movie should shoot that snooze up to #1.

Technically, Canterbury Tales is not a novel, but so what.


message 18: by Joyce C (new)

Joyce C I have not read HEART OF DARKNESS, although I do own it. Should I bother?


message 19: by Antoine (new)

Antoine The passages I have read are brilliant, but I have never mounted a successful assault on the whole... and it is only 100pp!


message 20: by Tom (new)

Tom Yes, you should definitely read Heart of Darkness--very worthwhile. And as Antoine points out, it's only 100 pages.


message 21: by Joyce C (new)

Joyce C Susan wrote: "

Anna Karenina was very repetitive, in my humble opinion. Nevertheless, I couldn't put it down.



message 22: by Debra (new)

Debra I once implied to a bright well-read friend that I didn't think Infinite Jest was something she'd get through. However, it's one of my personal favorites.


message 23: by Antoine (new)

Antoine I loved it (though I hated some aspects of it), but I couldn't possibly describe it as "easy."


message 24: by Janet (new)

Janet I read Tale of Two Cities in HS English class and have re-read it since then.I would not consider it difficult but I do think its a worthwhile for anyone to read.


message 25: by Travis (new)

Travis Tom wrote: "Beowulf, currently number 2 on this list, isn't a novel at all. And many of these books, like Anna Karenina, are not difficult, they're just long, which isn't the same thing."

It's all rather subjective isn't it? What makes a book a hard read for someone else wouldn't be the same for you, and vice-versa.


message 26: by Rachel (new)

Rachel If anyone likes to read into and analyze books, then Heart of Darkness is like a tiny treasure chest that can be broken into so many different schools of thought, that it's amazing. Even if one is incapable of disecting a book, or feels that it takes away from it's literary value, it is an enjoyable, though some would find difficult, read, either way, though much more enjoyable in the former case.
But, this is all opinion, so...




message 27: by Spencer (new)

Spencer Roemer Sound and the Fury is easily the most difficult book I've ever read!


message 28: by Jim (new)

Jim Why do I get the feeling that, with the exception of Finnegan's Wake, most of the titles on this list say more about the readers than the difficulty of the books.


message 29: by Antoine (new)

Antoine Hey, remember "difficult" does not mean bad. That we talk as if it does says even more about us (as people of our time) than our choice of books. In fact, to nominate a book you are supposed to have actually read it, AND felt it was "worth the effort." I, for one, doubt that all 48 people who voted for Finnegan's Wake have actually read it and liked it, but whatever. It is certainly famous for being "difficult."


message 30: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Fiona wrote: "Joyce wrote: "I have not read HEART OF DARKNESS, although I do own it. Should I bother?"

I wouldn't bother if I was you - a turgid novel detailing a land long forgotton in a time that no one car..."

Yes, Fiona, you should bother. Then you will understand about colonialism, and why it informs so many international issues today, which clearly the viewer of Apocalypse Now has failed to do.


message 31: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Antoine wrote: "OK, as a Librarian, I am deleting books that really hard, but are clearly NOT novels (including my own insertion of the Aeneid). Beowulf, Kant: buh-bye."

Good! Thanks...


message 32: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I'm amazed at the inclusion of some books on this list. How could anyone literate find Dickens difficult?? I read and enjoyed his books (and I mean almost all of them) when I was about 14. Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea???? It isn't even long, and Hemingway is a master of simple short sentences!
This list makes me despair about the future of the written word if books that were read and enjoyed by *teenagers* of my generation are considered 'difficult' now.


message 33: by Antoine (new)

Antoine Well, that begs the question, "what is difficult?" I have always found Hemingway "difficult" despite the simplicity of his diction. He isn't hard to read; he is hard (for me) to care about. As a teacher, I find my teenage students far more passionate about Jane Eyre than about Hard Times. For them, Dickens much simpler (technically) novel, was less meaningful to them, and therefore more "difficult." Whereas Bronte's much weirder novel spoke directly to them, and so the superficial "difficulty" of the text melted away.


message 34: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I suppose I was assuming that respondents here were adults. I mean, for example, a primary school student would find Dickens difficult to read even when they could decode the words because they wouldn't have experienced reading 19th century writing styles nor have any understanding of the social issues that Dickens was writing about. But I would assume that students in secondary school would (should) have been exposed to a bit of classic literature and have some knowledge of history and the humanitarian/philanthropic issues that were a cause for concern in those days.
Of course one reason why students find Jane Eyre easier is because they can fake reading it by watching the movie LOL...


message 35: by Antoine (last edited Mar 22, 2010 05:15AM) (new)

Antoine Well, the same could be said of a lot of Dickens, vis-a-vis film. A couple thoughts, as someone who tries engage teenagers with literature professionally (although I teach in a private school, which is known locally for attracting serious readers). Most people don't pick up and enjoy novels for the thrill of examining related historical and social issues, unless they are required to do so for school. Those things may be present, but what a reader wants above all is story. Dickens is a master, perhaps THE master of story, but the conventions of his style and time require drawing out an element of mystery for 2/3 to 3/4 of a novel. Only then do all the disparate elements of the story come together and hurtle towards their compelling conclusion. In Bleak House, to take one example, that's almost 700 pp of matter (much of it rather didactic and preachy-seeming) before you figure out what's really going on with the story. That's a lot of time to lose interest in finding out what will happen at all.

I think difficulty of engagement, difficulty giving a damn, is really the issue with a lot of these works for some readers, and reading conprehension, raw ability, has little or nothing to do with it. Take Moby Dick, a book that I am reading right now, and enjoying very much. Melville's diction isn't difficult, and he has great "issues" in hand. But a lot of readers find it difficult to sustain their interest through the whole novel. Its almost a cliche of boredom. And what is more "difficult," in the end, than sticking with something that fails to interest you?


message 36: by Antoine (last edited Mar 22, 2010 05:31AM) (new)

Antoine I just deleted several books that, while arguably difficult, are clearly not novels (the Bible, Thucydides, Paradise Lost). I chose to leave the Canterbury Tales for some reason; not sure why.

P.S. I also deleted the 77pp retelling of the Count of Monte Cristo. I direct those who voted for it to the complete novel, also featured in this list, currently at number 33.


message 37: by D (new)

D Freeman Difficult is a very obtuse and general word. Certain books may not be so incomprehensible (Like most of later Burroughs that I've read, Nova Express, parts of Cities of the Red Night-- certainly difficult books) and still exhausting to finish despite their quality; thus my votes for The Glass Bead Game and Something Happened.


message 38: by William Herschel (new)

William Herschel There is so much wrong with this list.


message 39: by Kristina (new)

Kristina A Clockwork Orange? The Bell Jar? It took me a mere two days to read A Clockwork Orange, and I don't know if it's my knowledge of the Russian language and Burgess' application of it in the book, but I did not find this novel the least bit challenging.
While the Bell Jar was lengthier, I do not see any challenge with this book.


message 40: by Antoine (new)

Antoine Maybe its a flawed list-one person's easy beach read is another's nightmare. But the top ten seems like a good selection of worthy and genuinely difficult books.


message 41: by Derya (last edited Oct 23, 2010 08:27AM) (new)

Derya Paradise Lost is not a novel, neither is The Divine Comedy. You should either change the title, or edit the entire list.


message 42: by Lucky Teapot (last edited Oct 24, 2010 01:56PM) (new)

Lucky Teapot Uhm.. What's so difficult about Crime and Punishment , Lolita, Heart of Darkness or One hundred years of solitude? I finished the first three in a relatively short time, they read well and are quite engrossing. I admit that I'm stuck in the middle of "Solitude" but that's because I'm lazy and can't remember who's who ;). One can't even compare the difficult-ness of these with Ulysses (tried - failed).

ETA Catch 22 is a piece of cake and a very pleasant read. What's wrong with some people?


message 43: by Lucky Teapot (new)

Lucky Teapot Joyce wrote: "I have not read HEART OF DARKNESS, although I do own it. Should I bother?"

Of course you should. It's wonderfully mind-f*cking ;).


message 44: by J (new)

J Man I think that it's sad that so many people are repeatedly commenting on the intelligence of others simply because they thought a book was difficult. I'm also disappointed to find that the majority of posts involve people complaining at how the list is configured and how "easy" a book is to them. This list isn't perfect but, as too many people before me have had to post, this is based on people's OPINIONS and not fact. I wish that those who post messages would refrain from making such comments, but since I'm not the "web police" I can't enforce it. Oh well.
On a more positive note, I must say that, after reading both War and Peace and Ana Karenina, I have a lot of respect for Tolstoy as a writer because for him to not only write novels as long as they are and to make them so good (in my opinion) shows what I characterize as superior writing abilities. Of course that's just me.


message 45: by jo (new)

jo the description says these should be books that made you work super hard but that, at the end, you found worth the effort. i think this is entirely subjective; moreover, the fact that some books someone found extremely easy have been voted for more than once proves that there is something challenging -- and worthwhile -- about them.


message 46: by jo (new)

jo Divine Comedy, Iliad, Paradise Lost, Anti-Oedipus --> not novels.


message 47: by Chloe (new)

Chloe It's fun to see what some people call difficult. Of course, by fun I mean dishearteningly elucidating as to the current state of functional illiteracy. AKA: Little Women is a children's book.


message 48: by jo (new)

jo Chloe wrote: "It's fun to see what some people call difficult. Of course, by fun I mean dishearteningly elucidating as to the current state of functional illiteracy. AKA: Little Women is a children's book."

hey chloe, did you take a look at the book the people who voted for Little Women have on their "read" list? i'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest they were joshing. in fact, if i weren't such a stickler for accuracy and earnestness i would vote for Little Women myself.


message 49: by Chloe (new)

Chloe I suppose that could be the case. These polls have not, in the past, made me especially optimistic. And, well, 80% or more of these books are not difficult so much as long or well-constructed.

I see some people (above) dislike critical comments. And, I appreciate encouraging people who may not read very much. But, this is a place for people who love books, ostensibly. I think deteriorating standards are not a non-issue in that arena. Pretty much every poll or list here is steeped in mediocrity. It's okay to notice this. We care too much about emotions today, and it just feeds the appetitive side of human nature.


message 50: by Vincent (new)

Vincent Abbin While a lot of these books are more "long" than "difficult," I think that some books are difficult to finish because they are long. War and Peace, for example, is very easy to understand, but it's length makes it very tedious at times (particularly the historical sections that veer away from the far more interesting fictional sections). Proust, on the other hand, is not always easy to understand, but the length of the novel and the separate volumes can make the otherwise engrossing read seem trying for even the most ardent followers. I found it impossible to read from beginning of Swann's Way to the end of Time Regained. I don't understand how any of Dostoevsky's works are perceived as difficult, though.

Ultimately, I very much agree with Joyce's high placement on the list. He earned it by being both long and difficult.


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